Not even a pair of top 20 programs could solve the riddle that is the Ohio State men’s tennis program when it plays at home.
The No. 5 Buckeyes (9-0) dispatched No. 17 Kentucky 4-0 Friday and No. 8 Texas A&M 4-3 Sunday at the Varsity Indoor Tennis Center over the weekend, making it 181 consecutive home victories for OSU. Coach Ty Tucker said his team could have been a bit overrated entering the season, but after the two wins, they could have proved they belong among the nation’s best.
A big crowd was on hand Sunday as the Aggies came to town. OSU dropped the first doubles match of the day as redshirt-sophomore Chris Diaz and redshirt-freshman Ralf Steinbach fell 6-1 to Aggie juniors Jeremy Efferding and Jordan Szabo. OSU redshirt-junior Hunter Callahan and freshman Herkko Pollanen defeated sophomores Harrison Adams and Shane Visant 6-3 to even things up, but senior Peter Kobelt and redshirt-junior Kevin Metka lost in a tiebreak 6-5 (7-5) to the Aggie duo of senior Junior Ore and junior Jackson Withrow.
It was the first time OSU had dropped the doubles point all season, but the Buckeyes fought through the adversity in singles play. Needing to win four matches, Kobelt, Metka, Callahan and Steinbach each took the first set of their matches to spark the Buckeyes’ rally.
Kobelt got the Buckeyes on the board first with a 6-4, 6-3 upset over Adams. Metka kept things rolling with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Withrow.
The Aggies then took two straight matches of their own next as Vinsant beat Pollanen 6-2, 6-4 and Efferding downed Diaz 6-1, 6-5 (8-6).
Steinbach won 6-5 (13-11), 6-4 after firing a big serve to force an error from Ore. They quickly shook hands and ran to court six where Callahan was serving for match point against freshman Max Lunkin. After a rally, Callahan smashed an overhead and threw his hands up in celebration as he realized Lunkin’s return was sailing out of play and he clinched the match with a 6-5 (7-3), 6-3 win.
“When you play powerhouses, you have to come to the table,” Tucker said. “It’s frightening out there when you have one chance to hold serve and you’re (team’s) down 3-2, but Steinbach and Callahan did.”
The team stormed onto the court and joined in a big congratulatory hug after their biggest victory of the season.
“It feels amazing, beating a team like this,” Steinbach said after the win. “We didn’t want to be the guys to end the (winning) streak. It’s a great feeling and we’ve all worked hard for this.”
A crowd of more than 100 was on hand to see the Buckeyes take on the Wildcats in the first real test of the season.
In doubles, Diaz and Steinbach dropped their set to Kentucky freshman Nils Ellefsen and senior Ryuji Hirooka, 6-4. Callahan and Pollanen evened things up, though, defeating senior Alejandro Gomez and sophomore Beck Pennington 6-5 (7-5).
The doubles point came down to Kobelt and Metka against senior Tom Jomby and sophomore Kevin Lai. With the Wildcats playing for set point, Kobelt calmly stepped up and fired two huge serves to turn the tables. With the Buckeyes now playing for set point, Kobelt’s massive forehand return caused an error by the Wildcats, giving OSU the doubles point, 6-5 (8-6).
“That’s what you play for. When you get up to the line, there’s no point in being nervous,” Kobelt said. “I just wanted to play my best at the biggest moment. That’s what a senior is supposed to do.”
The team began to relax from there and singles play went much smoother as OSU won the first set on five of six courts. Steinbach was the first off winning 6-1, 6-2 against Lai. Metka finished right after winning his match 6-1, 6-3.
It was Kobelt, again, sealing it for the Buckeyes downing Jomby 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. He won the match with an ace right down the middle that Jomby didn’t even attempt chasing after.
The Buckeyes are next scheduled to play in the National Indoors Team Tournament in Houston Friday.